Adopt A Book: The Perfect Gift

Looking for the perfect gift for the winter holidays? Look no further. Donating to the Duke Libraries Adopt-a-Book program not only helps the Library preserve its collections, it makes a great gift for family or friends. Donations are also calorie-free and don’t take up closet space! We have a few new items up for adoption, and a few other titles that are worthy of adoption that have been on the list for a bit.

These three volumes of Don Quioxte have remarkable edge paintings that are still quite vibrant.

three books with edge paintings of castles
Castles galore!

This collection of four titles are all in excellent condition but need custom enclosures to keep them that way. Matthew Alexander Henson‘s A Negro Explorer at the North Pole recounts his 1909 voyage to the North Pole with Robert Peary, where he may have been the first to reach the geographic North Pole. This voyage was one of seven voyages to the Arctic where he served as a navigator and craftsman for Peary.

A collection of classics.

Still in need of adopting are two sets of bindings by H. McLanahan. These may all be written by Bernard Shaw, but the McLanahan bindings are what make these books stunning.

These are so expertly crafted and beautiful.

If you are feeling really generous, there are the beautiful and stunning elephant folio Birds of American by John James Audubon. These bindings are huge, and three are in need of repair. A true statement gift!

Strapping a double elephant folio Audubon.

There are plenty more available for adoption. See our website for the complete list and benefits of adoption. If you can’t decide on a particular item, let us decide with a “Adopt a Box: Conservator’s Choice.” We always have great stuff in the lab that needs attention. We will choose something wonderful for you.

Preservation Underground will be on hiatus until January so that we can rest, recharge, and spend time with our families over the holidays. We hope to see you in 2022. Thanks for reading!

Quick Pic: Fore-edge Tassels

I was in the Rubenstein Library the other day, reviewing the condition of some of the bound Ethiopic manuscripts for a research request, when I noticed something interesting going on at the fore-edge of one book.

It turns out that small lengths of colored thread have been sewn through the fore-edge of specific leaves to mark beginning passages of text.

I often see other examples of textblock “wayfinding” through the use of notched pages (otherwise known as a “thumb index”), leather index tabs, or even library patrons affixing their own post-it notes in circulating books – but I was, until now, unfamiliar with the fore-edge tassel. For books with parchment leaves, this seems like a very durable and effective page marking method. They certainly add a little more festive cheer than the typical brown leather tab.

What’s In the Lab: Lovely Illustrations

We have had so many books come through recently with amazing illustrations. From butterflies to coral, travel images to bee flies, our eyes have feasted on some truly lovely images this week.

“The Natural History of Foreign Butterflies” by James Duncan is a beautifully illustrated book filled with vibrantly colorful butterflies. They look real enough to flutter off of the page.

“Le Voyage de L’Isabella au Centre de la Terre” by Léon Creux and illustrated by Paul Coze is a beautiful book inside and out. We fell for this highly illustrated cover depicting a fanciful above- and below-ground image.

東海道五拾三次 / Tōkaidō gojūsantsugi” by 歌川国盛 / Kunimori Utagawa, is a lovely book of woodcuts of Tōkaidō printed circa 1840’s. The original outer box is a traditional Japanese book box with bone clasps, lined with printed paper. These two structures were some of the first I learned as a bookbinder.

Plances de Sebe, Locupletissimi rerum natrualium thesauri” by Albertus Seba is filled with all sorts of amazing creatures. Coral and puffer fish are regulars on the Coral City Camera, a live underwater camera in Miami, Florida. The scientists behind this camera are studying urban coral growth and the effects of shipping traffic on the waterway in Biscayne Bay. I think they would like this book.

Lest you think the only cool stuff we get is from special collections, check out the “Manual of Central American Diptera” edited by B.V. Brown, et. al. Who knew fly parts would be so intriguing.*

Some of these books are are here because the boxing was funded through our Adopt-a-Book Program. Others came from the Rubenstein Library reading room. This has been one of those weeks where we get to appreciate how beautiful books are as objects.  We love our jobs!

*Bonus insect pic from the bookplate in “Plances de Sebe, Locupletissimi rerum natrualium thesauri” by Albertus Seba.

MacGyver-ing the Big Books

Oversized books come with a lot of handling and treatment challenges. Just moving and opening them can be physically demanding and former owners may not have had a good place for storage. This atlas of London street maps from 1799 measures approximately 26″x22″. Prior to acquisition, it had been rebound in a modern limp leather binding and, in attempt to make it easier to transport or store, had been folded vertically in half. The leather became very chemically degraded and the outward-facing rear cover was torn off.

I’ve spent the last several months piecing the broken, brittle maps back together and now it is ready for some new covers. We’ve written on Preservation Underground before about boxing some of the biggest bindings in the collection and treatment of double folios. As in those cases, a lot of the specialized equipment we have in the lab is too small for books of this size. At times like these, you just have to put on the appropriate theme song, channel Richard Dean Anderson, and gather up all the clamps in the lab.

Resewing a book on raised cords requires that some tension be put on the sewing supports. We typically employ a sewing frame to hold them in the correct position during this process, but even the large wooden one we have in the lab is a bit too short. Luckily we have a very long, rigid metal ruler and uniform wooden press blocks to take its place.

I will be constructing a new binding with rigid boards for this atlas similar to another copy in the collection, and that requires some rounding and backing of the textblock spine. This process is traditionally done with a flat-faced hammer, in a lying press or job backer. The textblock spine is actually composed of compensating guard strips of flexible paper, to which the maps have been mounted. This allows me to reshape the atlas textblock safely. These guards also made the sewing process much easier, as I could just sew through them instead of a full-sized folio.

Our job backer is, again, about 4″ too short for this book to fit inside – so I attempted to recreate one with press boards and deep-throated C-clamps.

It had to be clamped to the table to allow me to tap with a wooden block between the raised bands and shape the spine. I had to adjust the center clamp as I moved from head to tail, then flip the entire contraption to get each side.

It ended up being fairly effective. With some temporary working boards laced on, you can see the gentle round and small textblock shoulder that is formed.

The atlas will get endbands and a strong linen spine lining before the final board attachment. The laced on, rigid boards will provide the protection and strength that such a large book requires. Although I’m sure those clamps will be needed again before it is finished.

Evidence in Print Waste

I recently shared some images of a 16th century printed book that is the lab for full treatment and I have since uncovered some additional information about the binding. As previously mentioned, the book was not in good working order when it was acquired, looking more like something left behind in the mines of Moria than a volume that you would be served in the reading room.

With so much water damage and loss to the covering materials, it was clear in my examination that the remains of multiple bindings exist on the wooden boards. The outer-most covering is a “quarter-style” strip of brown leather (both adhered and nailed to the boards) and block printed, blue paper sides. Underneath that first layer are wide leather corners and a brown or purple paste paper siding-up the boards.

The pastedowns have several layers of paper with both manuscript and print faintly visible underneath. The inner-most layers of covering material were adhered with a thick layer of hide glue, which has begun to fail either through age or the book’s exposure to moisture.  This made it possible to mechanically lift all the layers of pastedown away from the wooden board in one piece, revealing  the print waste.

I was surprised to see a New York newspaper from the late 1700s, especially since the text was printed in Frankfurt some 200 years prior. The date at the top left was slightly obscured by minor losses and the remnants of fanned-out sewing supports, adhered to the interior of the front board. Luckily the full run of The Daily Advertiser has been digitized and is freely available through America’s Historical Newspapers, so I was able to look for dates in 1786  ending in “4” that occurred on a Wednesday and locate the issue.

(1786, June 14). Daily Advertiser, II (405), p. [1]. Available from Readex: America’s Historical Newspapers.

I was able to repeat the process for the lower board and that pastedown actually includes the lower half of the same printed sheet. I would not have been able to identify it so quickly without a digital image of the full newspaper.

The print waste in this binding is a fascinating find on a number of levels. I will note that this particular newspaper is not uncommon, with many libraries holding copies; however, the advertisements printed on this page tell a number of stories. Many of the ads are focused on shipping, with cargo ships for sale and others for hire. There are advertisements for Canadian furs, Irish linen, glassware, and iron goods from England. My favorite is the notice describing a large reward for the perpetrators of a robbery or a smaller one for just the return of the stolen goods. But the darkest parts of our history are represented here as well: ships traveling from Barbados or Antigua carrying sugar and rum, redemptioner servants and slaves described as “healthy” and offered for sale.

We don’t have much information about provenance of this book, but the presence of this newspaper used as binding material gives us clues about when and where at least one of its many repair and rebinding campaigns may have occurred.  This important evidence will be stabilized and retained as part of the conservation treatment.

Things Come Apart–On Purpose

Occasionally we are asked to disbind books. Sometimes that is an easy task, but when it comes to library-bound serials from the mid 1980’s it isn’t so easy.

Library binding is a specific process, there is even a NISO Standard for it. It’s a tough, made-to-last binding that includes sewing signatures around sawn-in cords, gluing the spine and applying a heavy spine lining, and creating a cover of heavy boards and durable buckram cloth. I love library bindings, they are indestructible by design and have a utilitarian-ness about them.

But when you have to take one apart it can be challenging, and time consuming. Cutting the threads and carefully cutting through the spine lining between issues takes patience. There is always some damage that must be repaired later. The paper scarfs, or your knife slips and cuts the outer folio.

Issue by issue I take it apart. I see the small knots in the thread where the person who sewed this added a new piece so she could keep going. It took time to bind this, and it was probably one of a thousand books that she bound that year.

The evidence of her hand is a reminder that a skilled trades person put this together. Her sewing is still tight. She made that small knot, trimmed it carefully, and kept going until she had a three-inch thick volume sewn together, ready for casing in.  Taking this apart is a reminder that not everything we do in Conservation is permanent. Sometimes we undo hours of care and labor. I honor the labor that it took to create this volume, even as I take it apart, smiling at each small knot I come across.

What Comes Out in the Wash

This 1546 German translation of Pedanius Dioscorides‘ pharmacopeia, titled Kreutterbuch (literally “plant book”), has been through quite a lot.

Pulled textblock, before any treatment The sewing of the existing binding was broken, the extensive paper repairs at the gutter have been eaten through by insects, many of the leaves are detached, and it has extensive staining from water damage. Pictured above is the pulled textblock, with each section separated by wide paper flags to help me keep everything organized.

Stained leaves before aqueous treatmentWashing can be beneficial for paper in this condition by reducing staining, removing harmful products of degradation, and improving pliability of the sheet. The benefits of aqueous treatment come with a lot of risks, though. In addition to removing unwanted substances, washing can extract the original sizing. The sheet’s dimensions, surface texture, and color can be altered as well. Washing can adversely affect the inks and other applied media, so extensive testing ahead of time is essential for determining what will and won’t come out in the wash. The same leaves looking visibly brighter after washing

After lots of discussion with the curators and spot testing, the decision was made to move forward with washing this book. The pages were vacuumed and surface cleaned to remove any soiling on the surface. After a series of baths in preconditioned deionized water, there is a significant reduction in staining and much improved legibility of the text. While in the bath, it is also very easy to remove the broken paper guards at the spine edges/folds to allow for new paper guards prior to rebinding.

 

A Sticky Situation

Sticky notes.  We know they are useful for conveying information…

book with sticky note on front cover
I think they buried the lede with this sticky note.

They can be good for taking notes…

Book pages with sticky notes
Thank you for not actually writing in our books….maybe?

But they can stain and leave adhesive residue…

Sticky note ink bleed
Not a traditional method of edge painting.

The dyes are also not particularly stable…

book with sticky notes
Sun damaged sticky note. Exactly how long have these been in here?

Although some sticky notes are dang cute…they really can damage paper by bleeding onto the text block, leaving behind a sticky residue, or causing tears in  brittle paper when they are removed.

cat themed sticky note
We removed this purrrfect little sticky note from a book this week.

So please, if you use sticky notes in library books, please remove them as soon as you are finished with the book. That will reduce the damage down the road.

 

 

FY2021: By The Numbers

It’s annual statistics time! As you can imagine Covid-19 influenced our stats for this year.  I don’t think any of us anticipated we would spend the first few months of the fiscal year working exclusively from home, and when we did return it was on a staggered schedule to avoid too many people in the lab at the same time.  That said, we did get a lot done. While treatment numbers are down as expected, we did get a lot of training, conference attendance, and administrative work done from home.

FY2021 Statistics

409 Book repairs
503 Pamphlet bindings
0 Treatments: Other (objects, textiles, etc.)
410  Flat Paper repairs
1,293 Protective enclosures
300  Disaster recovery
2 Exhibit mounts
48 Hours in support of Exhibits (meetings, treatment, installation, etc.)
443 Digital preparation repairs
23.25 Hours in support of Digital Projects (meetings, consultations, handling, etc.)

41 % of production was for Special Collections
59 % of production was for Circulating Collections

62.2% of work was Level 1 [less than 15 minutes to complete;  1813 items]
34.2% of work was Level 2 [15 minutes – 2 hours to complete;  998 items]
3.2% of work was Level 3 [2 – 5 hours to complete;  94 items]
0.3% of work was Level 4 [more than 5 hours; 10 items]

This is the first year that we added a Level 4 treatment (5+ hours). This differs from the old ARL/ALA Preservation Statistics where Level 3 (3+ hours) was the longest hourly bucket you could put treatments into. We felt this didn’t give us enough of an idea of how very lengthy treatments fit in to our overall output.

Creating custom enclosures has always been a large percentage of our yearly output. This year the total percentage of work that were enclosures was 44%, very close to the historical percent average. With the Lilly Renovation Project ramping up again, we expect to see larger numbers in this category for the next couple of years.

Other Things We Did Last Year

Duke University Libraries Preservation